NICS Process for FFLs


In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson enacted The Gun Control Act in response to the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy.

In 1993, as an amendment to The Gun Control Act, President Clinton signed the Brady Act into law, naming it after James Brady, who suffered a near fatal head injury during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan.

As a result, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or the NICS, was established to aid Federal Firearms Licensees, or FFLs, in determining whether or not the transfer of a firearm would violate state or federal law.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation implemented the NICS on November 30, 1998.

Located in Clarksburg, West Virginia, as a part of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, the NICS is a national center that performs background checks for FFLs in those areas that have no state points of contact.

But, every FFL is provided access to the NICS in one-way or another.

Unless in possession of a valid, alternate permit, all potential firearms purchases must go through the NICS process, and, all FFLs must conduct a NICS background check prior to transferring any firearm.

As an FFL, you’re probably familiar with the NICS process. But, the NICS Section is always committed to providing great customer service and has developed this animated flowchart, with you in mind.

The process begins when a potential customer chooses a firearm and completes an ATF Form 4473.

Then, as the FFL, you should take the time to review this form thoroughly. Accuracy is essential, because the NICS background checks are name-based and dependent upon descriptive information entered on the form.

Now, when you enrolled in the NICS, you provided a 15-digit license number and established a code word.

Did you remember to keep those in a safe place? How about that login information for you E-Check subscribers? Good. You’re definitely going to need this information to keep things moving along.

Now, you may submit your request, either by phone, 1-877-FBI-NICS, and choosing option “1” from the menu, or by logging into the NICS E-Check website:, and entering the required identifying information.

Both methods will get the job done, so feel free to use either one at your discretion.

In both cases, the moment your information is submitted, you will receive a NICS Transaction Number, or NTN, generated to keep track of your particular submission.

Over the next few moments, your customer’s identifying information will be “Processing,” or compared to millions of records, stored in three nationally held databases: the Interstate Identification Index, or III, which holds Criminal History Records; the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC; which holds various records, such as warrants and protection orders; and the NICS Index, which holds records of individuals, prohibited from purchasing, or possessing firearms.

If your customer is not a U.S. citizen, their submission will undergo an “Immigration Alien Query,” or IAQ, through the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE.

Once the database search is complete, you will receive one of the following responses: “Proceed” or “Transfer.” And, for you E-Check subscribers: “Proceed” or “Researching.”

A “Proceed” response means your submission did not produce a “Hit” in any of the databases. And your happy customer gets to leave with their new firearm.

In some cases, your customer’s submission may produce a “Hit,” which means there are matching, or closely matching, descriptors in one or more databases, triggering a “Transfer” or “Researching” response.

Any “Hit” will trigger a transfer to the NICS for additional review. In this case, both “Phone” and “E-Check” submissions will be transferred to a NICS examiner for further review.

Earlier, you were provided with an important piece of information to help you keep track of your submission. Do you still have it?

Excellent. You remembered to hang onto your NTN. If you’re submitting by phone, you’ll need that number to reference your particular submission.

Upon completion of this review, you will be notified of your status, up to this point: a “Proceed,” a “Delay,” or maybe an “Open” in “E-Check,” a “Deny,” and on rare occasions, a “Cancel,” indicating a lack of sufficient information.

This time, a “Proceed” indicates that although your customer’s submission did, in fact, “Hit” in one or more of the databases, the descriptive data was not identical to that of your customer. Or there was a possible match. But it contained no federal or state prohibitors.

If your customer’s submission ends up in a “Delay” status, it means that the “Hit” produced possible or identical matches in one or more databases, and even more research will be required to determine if any federal or state prohibitors apply.

If a final status is not obtained within the allotted three-business day time frame, and your state allows, you are legally permitted to transfer the firearm at your discretion.

In “E-Check,” an “Open” status means this three-day period has passed.

A “Deny” status, on the other hand, indicates that your customer’s submission not only “Hit” in one or more of the databases, but this time did produce a possible or identical match, that also included federal or state prohibitors, ultimately disqualifying them from purchasing a firearm.

Not only is the NICS E-Check free of charge, but you can use it in conjunction with the call centers too. And the benefits are numerous.

For example, directly entering descriptive data greatly facilitates accuracy and integrity.

There is added safety against data and identity theft. You can freely print any of your completed records.

Let us help you stay organized by keeping track of your daily, weekly, and yearly NICS records. Enjoy 24/7 access, checking background results whenever you want. And, E-Check is the perfect alternative for the hearing and speech impaired.

That’s about it, but what can you do for your customers who continuously encounter extended delays or are denied?

Well, the NICS Section has developed the NICS Resolution Card.

This new tool will define the most appropriate course of action, depending on your particular circumstances, like when to appeal a “Deny” or submit a Voluntary Appeal File application.

Customers are encouraged to initiate a course of action through the NICS website, where they will encounter an improved, user friendly, and streamlined experience.

Order your NICS Resolution Cards by calling NICS Customer Service at 1-877-FBI-NICS, and choosing option “2” from the menu.

Your delayed customers always have the option of submitting an application to the NICS Voluntary Appeal File Database, or VAF.

The VAF is a separate database maintained for the convenience of your customers and serves to minimize future denials and/or extended delays.

Good candidates for this service are: victims of identity theft and/or those not identical to a state or FBI record, persons with an ATF “Relief from Disabilities,” and those whose records cannot be updated.

What about your denied customers? They can always appeal their denials. All appeals must be submitted in writing, either online or by mail.

If your customer’s check went through a state POC program, it is recommended that they appeal to their denying agency first.

Once reviewed, the customer, now the appellant, will receive one of two responses: “Overturned” or “Sustained.” If a “Deny” is “Overturned,” and your customer can produce the proper documentation, you may proceed with the sale of the firearm, as long as the NTN has not expired.

If the customer’s NTN has expired, it will be necessary to initiate a new NICS background check, by contacting the NICS Customer Service at 1-877-FBI-NICS, and choosing option “5” from the menu.

This could also end up in a “Delay” or “Deny” status, if the customer happened to acquire any prohibitors while their appeal was under review.

If an Appellant’s “Deny” is “Sustained,” it indicates that extensive research was conducted in an effort to rectify any and all grievances, to no avail. The “Deny” stands.

Most people would cringe at the idea of having to read the fine print, but the NICS is happy to have been able to share our overall process with you this way.

Remember, there is plenty of supplemental information on our website and DVDs to help you in completely understanding each and every step of the NICS process.

If you still have questions or concerns, feel perfectly free to contact our NICS customer service representatives, and we’ll gladly get you where you need to be.

Thank you.